Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Three music veterans have teamed up to release music apps for Apple and Android tablets under the name ROBA Interactive, including high-end audio and video, interviews, text, photos, musical scores, and more. The result, they hope, will provide a deeper music experience than one gets from more hastily-assembled apps, replacing some of what they say went missing when music went digital.
The first artist to receive this treatment, the feature-film music composer Dave Grusin, will see his ROBA app, An Evening with Dave Grusin ($10), released on April 25 if all goes to plan. Evolver.fm gained early access to the app, which includes a bounty of audio, video, photo, and text goodies — everything from a raw recording of the string section to descriptions of production techniques. Rapper Pitbull will be the next artist to get this treatment, according to ROBA Interactive spokeswoman Laurie Jakobson, with others to follow.
The players behind ROBA Interactive include entrepreneur (and co-founder) Larry Rosen and award-winning producer (and board chairman) Phil Ramone, who founded the groundbreaking internet music distribution company N2K Music together with Dave Grusin in ’97, as well as co-founder Larry Miller, also a co-founder of AT&T’s early secure digital music initiative a2b music which also launched in ’97. (ROBA, no relation to Roba Music Publishing, stands for “Racking Our Brains About” — the founders’ tip of the hat to the difficulty of choosing a name.)
Digital music has changed a great deal since those early days. The market figured out how to distribute music without stumbling over format issues, either securely within apps or without file protection to users’ hard drives, all without the compatibility issues that dogged early digital music efforts. Today, apps are where the action is, so Rosen and Miller are wise to focus their efforts there, where they have advantages most other developers lack, such as access to raw materials from top-flight artists, the ability to record broadcast-quality media, and other niceties you won’t find in the average Justin Bieber app.
“The ease of digital downloads means more music is being consumed than ever before, but without any of the rich context that used to be part of the album experience,” said ROBA Interactive CEO Larry Miller in a statement. “Music fans today are using YouTube, Facebook and other sites to learn more about their favorite artists, and the demand for high-end offers beyond the plain vanilla download… is growing among music fans.”
The idea for this line of premium, behind-the-scenes, interactive-liner-note-style iPad apps came about as the team prepared material for a CD, Blu-ray and television show, also called An Evening with Dave Grusin. They were already recording Grusin’s performance using multiple angles and mics placed all around the venue, as well as access to the musicians and Grusin himself. From there, it took only a short leap to assemble those materials into an iPad app.
Film score music isn’t terribly compelling to everyone, but the An Evening with Dave Grusin app has a lot to offer the curious. That said, it functions somewhat as a promotional item around the Blu-ray version of the video and buying the songs on iTunes, rather than as a standalone experience, which is somewhat of a shame. (Why not charge more for a version that includes the full performance, or maybe coupons redeemable for the songs in iTunes?) For some songs, all you get is an audio sample, and no song appears in its entirety.
Nonetheless, the range of what ROBA Interactive offers in this $10 app even without including a single complete song is impressive, if somewhat of a tease. Audio samples, HD video samples, interviews in all formats, photos, scrollable text nuggets, rehearsal videos, handwritten notes, quotes from various luminaries, excerpts from the musical score that move along as the orchestra plays them, and more are all organized in an intuitive layout; swipe sideways to switch songs, or up to move deeper into any given song. Samples continue to play as you browse around, replicating the “liner notes” experience of yore in which fans would pore over record jackets as they listened.
The Producer’s Corner section available for some of the songs offers some of this apps richest media. There, listeners can focus on raw recordings of strings, woodwinds, brass or percussion — or hear the fully-mixed version “to appreciate the transformation from rough recording to commercial release.” In other cases, it lets you see where various players sit on stage, learn more about which microphones were used, and more.
All in all, ROBA Interactive’s first app offers hardcore Dave Grusin fans a deep, informative tour of the people, music, and technology behind his work. We imagine that it would be the perfect companion listening to the album in iTunes or watching the performance on Blu-ray. As such, $10 could be too much to ask, given that the full-length songs will be sold separately in those formats.